It REALLY @#$%&*! Hurts! Physical Pain & Emotions

    It hurts. REALLY. It's not made up, it is real and it is happening. Our autonomic nervous system uses the sympathetic division to help us to respond appropriately to stressful situation- fight, flight or freeze. Scientists named this division of an autonomous system in our bodies, SYMPATHETIC. We don't have to DO anything. The nervous system puts this sympathetic division into action without our conscious involvement. At the same time, the parasympathetic division is also working regulating systems in the body that we use at all times.

    The question is: How sympathetic are we to our own pain? Do we attempt to understand, have compassion or get angry, frustrated, impatient? Like the previous blog on self-compassion, we can attempt to understand what is happening. How are thoughts shaping my experience right now?

    Most beings are hard-wired to avoid pain at all costs. At our very base level, pain can signal danger and even death. It's no wonder the body and brain does its best to protect us. The body and mind have these ideas in mind-pain=danger& possible death, responding automatically with fight, flight or freeze. Those are the physical responses or impulses to pain, whether it be physical or emotional pain. The mind will usually identify this experience in much the same way, attempting to protect us or prevent further discomfort, based on knowledge gained from past experiences that are similar to the current experience. It is very logical and smart. It serves us very well in many situations.

    However, the mind and the nervous system often cannot tell the truth of what is happening. Sometimes, we can perceive a situation incorrectly.  I often use the analogy of the poisonous snake. Imagine you are walking in a dimly lit place. It is an area where there are poisonous snakes, you have been warned to look out and be careful. As you are walking, you see a coiled object.  The mind is quick to identify and react to perceived danger, much quicker than we are consciously able to. The autonomic nervous system will react, increased heart rate, sweat, hair standing on end, breathing changes. We may be able to consciously hear thoughts like, beware! Snake! Be careful! As we get out our flashlight and shine it on the coiled object, we laugh at ourselves as it is just a piece of rope! We have no control over this automatic reaction. We cannot know if it is a REAL danger or a perceived one.

  As I am now in REAL pain, due to an injury and the subsequent pains from my body compensating for the first injury,it is very easy to get angry, irritated, impatient and launch into despair. Having these type of emotions is natural. There is nothing "wrong" with this feelings. It only becomes a problem when I am not mindful or aware of my thoughts  regarding them. If I attempt to ignore, push away or avoid them and get swept away into stories about them, it makes the experience more difficult than it is. I may be reacting instead of responding in a skillful way. Reactions are automatic. Responses are chosen. 

    What we need in times of REAL pain, is more compassion, more patience and more understanding. We must surrender to the reality of the pain and yet, not buy into stories about the pain, about people in our lives or about ourselves. Challenging thoughts is a very important part of dealing with chronic pain. Acknowledging the truth of the pain, being kind and gentle with ourselves without moving into despair.

    Experiences of losing physical abilities is especially difficult. It is very easy to fall into feeling hopeless. It requires us to slow down, lower our expectations and accept our limitations, without focusing on stories of everything we can't do. If you are someone who has difficulty slowing down, it can feel torturous!  

    Disappointment can become a common experience with ourselves or with others when we are in pain. Again, if we can slow down and be aware of the thoughts fueling these experiences, we can have more power to choose. Can I forgive myself and others for not meeting my expectations? Can I ask for what I really need or is this another story that I am lost in about my own fears? How do I want to respond to this? If I were MY friend, going through this, how would I want to treat them? For most of us, it would be love, patience, understanding, generosity and kindness.

Put The Mask On Yourself First!

Self-Care and Compassion- What is it?

Most of us have flown on a plane. If we listen to the emergency instructions, the flight attendants will tell you-If the cabin loses pressure, masks will drop from overhead compartment. Please pull back on the rubber band to secure it to your face and the air will flow automatically. Breathe normally and the bag will inflate. Please secure the mask on yourself first, before attempting to help the elderly or young children. Why? Because if you pass out, you cannot help anyone.

Simple idea, yet not so easy to follow for many of us. Some of us were raised to believe helping others is more important, more pious, more generous then helping or caring for ourselves. Some of us might have even got the message that self-care is SELFISH or WRONG or BAD. Worst of all, many of us might have gotten the message that WE are bad, wrong, selfish to take care of ourselves. 

What does compassion mean? Merriam-Webster definition: "noun, com·pas·sion \kəm-ˈpa-shən\: a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc. Full Definition:  sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it".  Therefore, self-compassion, begins with caring. Caring about one's own pain, one's own troubles or distress. Self-care is part of compassion for oneself.  If we do not care for ourselves first, we will not be of much help to others. 

Mindfulness techniques are a way to care for ourselves, by beginning to care about our own pain, our own distress or suffering. As we use mindfulness in meditation and in our lives, we will be able to become aware of thoughts about our pain. We can begin to challenge those thoughts which are not helpful, not true or unkind.  Ignoring, pushing away or attempting to change pain when it is present with thoughts or other various methods does not work very well or for very long.  Mindfulness can allow us to relate differently to our pain.  We must begin with ourselves.

As our self-compassion grows, so it will increase for others.  



  






Mindfulness Meditation-What's The Point?

A student recently asked me why anyone should do this practice of meditation, toward the end of the first class in our introduction series. One of the problems in our society or culture today is the need for instant gratification or instant results of our efforts.

Some students DID experience moments of freedom from the mind during the first exercises or practice. Some did not. Being with the mind and choosing a different point of focus is not easy.

There is a reason meditation is called PRACTICE. It is like any skill, you must practice in order to gain experience and build that skill. One does not sit down with an instrument and instantly know how to play. One does not pick a physical activity and immediately become an expert at it. 

What is needed in order to learn any skill?  Scheduling a time;A place to practice; Effort & energy; Determination and finally a benefit. What will be the end result of the work one puts in to learn a skill? Meditation is not like riding a bike, in terms of learning and keeping the skill. It is more like learning a language. If you do not use it, practice it regularly, you will lose it.

What are the benefits? Why would anyone want to BE PRESENT? Mindfulness has become a buzzword. There is much evidence these days of the benefits of mindfulness or being present. Stress-reduction, lowering anxiety, dealing with difficult feelings,better relationships and higher quality of life. But how? you may ask.

As we learn to become more mindful of what is in our minds, we will find what is holding us back, what is keeping us from moving through the world in the way we wish to. 

As I told a friend, when I first began meditating, my mind doesn't push me around anymore. This can only be maintained by regular practice. The pathways which are the automatic routes will stay the same if we do not create new pathways. Sometimes these routes are so ingrained it can take a long time to recognize them. Mindfulness practices are the way to see clearly in areas that seem to be part of us or who we are.  Only then can we address that which has us stuck.